Like most of you this weekend, here at Four Five Two headquarters we had some spare time on our hands. Rather than spend that time with loved ones, we consumed copious amounts of alcohol while watching one of the most enjoyable USMNT matches in the past few years. Tonight’s match against Brazil is likely to provide a much sterner test before a final friendly against the Canadian Baconers. If you are new to the USMNT game, fans of the squad tend to get a little shall we say bat-shit crazy and delusional. Don’t believe me? See Davies, Charlie, the quest for a great American striker, or the never ending search for a left back that can run faster than Captain America. Because of this, Four Five Two is spelling out our expectations for the upcoming qualifying cycle in order of importance. Note these expectations do not include the World Cup itself. If we qualify we will do another one of these bad boys, until then bitch at us in the comments.
Qualify for Brazil 2014: This is the goal that really matters. There is no excuse for the USMNT to miss out on Brazil. Though the 2010 squad was extremely talented, it was young at some of the key positions, and injuries in 2009 robbed the squad of a world-class defender and star striker in the making. This time around those youngsters are more experienced, and so far Jurgen has found some young German-Americans to raise the talent level. With the U.S. easily one of the top 2 teams in CONCACAF, qualifying should not be difficult.
Don’t give up early goals: The biggest problem with Bob Bradley’s tenure was the US’s propensity for allowing early goals. In 4 World Cup matches, the team gave up 3 goals within the first 5-10 minutes of matches, and another at the beginning of extra time against Ghana. If the US wants to have success in Brazil, they can’t give up early goals and over qualifying is where this needs to be worked on. This defense is solid, and if some of the younger players pan out it could be exceptional, so we expect to give up no more than 3-4 early goals in the entire qualifying cycle.
Show an ability to break down defensive teams: The USMNT is like your classic mid-table team. They always play well against top teams and sometimes get a result, do well against teams with similar skill levels, but also make things difficult against bad teams. This happens because the squad excels at counterattacking, but you can’t play that way against a Honduras or Guatemala that packs 10 men behind the ball and forces you to be patient. This could be one of the more fascinating subplots to Jurgen’s tenure, especially with his desire to play attacking soccer.
Play All the Players!: Another criticism of Bob was his reliance on some of his “favorite” players such as Fast Robbie Findley or Ricardo ‘Red Card” Clark. Jurgen has already shown a frightening love affair with Edgar Castillo, but we all hope he overcomes that quickly. This squad also needs to begin looking to future players, especially with the age of some of our stars. While Bocanegra, Dolo, Onyewu, Goodson, Donovan, and Dempsey will all be starters in 2014 barring injury, it is likely the last World Cup for these guys and who will replace them has to be in the back of many fans’ minds. Playing the youngsters after securing a path to the next stage of qualifying, as well as in friendly’s against top teams will help, plus if someone does get injured an experienced replacement would be nice.
Win the Hexagonal: The final round of CONCACAF qualifying is probably the second toughest qualifying method behind CONEMBOL. Ten games against 5 opponents from February to October makes for a nasty schedule. The US has finished atop the group for the past 2 World Cups though it wasn’t easy. Although it doesn’t mean much, finishing above Mexico is always good for the fans, and does help indicate the strength of these two powerhouses, OOOSSAA on top, Mexico on the bottom.
Go undefeated in the semifinal stage: Starting on June 8th, the US will play Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala, and Jamaica home and away. The only team that should provide any sort of challenge is Guatemala, and even then only the away match should be challenging. The US managed their first away win over them in the 2010 World Cup qualifying cycle. Regardless, there is no excuse to lose any match, and really this team should win all 6 games in the semifinal stage. I can do it easily enough in FIFA after all.
Win the 2013 Gold Cup: For reasons known only to Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer, the Gold Cup is held every two years, and the US should win this one. It is highly unlikely Mexico will be bringing a full strength squad to this competition after competing in the Confederations Cup weeks before, and the US should take advantage. While a completely full strength side is unlikely. The US should have enough depth to win this tournament against what will probably be a ‘C’ Mexico side at best.